This Week in Science: September 21-27 2013

Pregnancies stay with you forever.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Temnospondyls‘.

A Russian camera trap caught a picture of a golden eagle taking down a deer.

Trilobites were adorable and curled up into little balls.

Paleontologists found an ancient walking whale in Peru.

There are so many different types of snake fangs.

A sad reason why you should take care of your trash: Peanut.

In paleontology, the present is the key to the past, but the past is the key to the future. Fossil crabs might offer insight on the future of reefs.

This 34 million year old frog ‘mummy’ is remarkably preserved.

I’d never heard of a mud volcano before, but one in Pakistan was powerful enough to make an island.

Tiger salamanders are adorable, especially when they are CT scanned.

An interactive guide to the IPCC climate change update.

Time lapse of disappearing glaciers.

A half-ton freshwater stingray.

The things people do for science. This time, it’s scaring squid with a toilet brush.

I don’t know about you, but I love close-up shots of sauropod bones.

‘Your Dinosaurs Are Wrong’. I agree, dinosaur toys are terrible.


Word Wednesday: Teeth

One of the key characteristics of mammals are their teeth. Unlike fish, reptiles and amphibians, mammals have different types of specialized teeth. This is why dinosaurs and sharks regrow their teeth, but humans only get two sets. There are four different types: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars.


Incisor comes from the Latin word ‘incisusmeaning cutting. These are your front teeth and, like the name suggests, they work like scissors to cut through food.


Canine comes from the Latin word ‘caninus‘ which means like a dog. Canines, or eye teeth, are longer, pointier teeth. They are used to hold food to tear it apart.


Molar comes from the Latin phrase ‘molaris dens‘ which means grinding tooth. Molars are your back teeth and are used to grind up food. Premolars are between your canines and your molars and are used in chewing to transition from the cutting of the incisors to the grinding of the molars.

Front view of the skull of Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus ursinus), showing Polyprotodont and carnivorous dentition. The modern accepted name is Sarcophilus harrisii. (Cambridge Natural History, Mammalia)

When studying teeth, scientists often use a dental formula. This is a simple way of showing the number of each type of tooth in one half of the jaw. To determine the total number of teeth, just double each part of the dental formula. For example, humans have four incisors, two canines, four premolars, and six molars in both the upper and lower jaws. That can be written either as (I2C1P2M3)/(I2C1P2M3) where the superscript numbers represent the upper jaw and the subscript numbers represent the lower jaw, or where the numbers on the top represent the upper jaw and the numbers on the bottom represent the lower jaw.

While humans have all four types of teeth and have the same number of teeth in our upper jaws as we do in our lower, that is not the case for all mammals. Cows have no upper incisors or canines, so their dental formula is . Dogs have more incisors than we do, as well as more premolars and fewer molars in their upper jaw than the lower: .

Despite there only being four different types of teeth, animals have greatly modified both their appearance and number. However, that is a topic for another day.

Citizen Science

It’s easy to see scientists as outsiders doing things that we could never hope to accomplish. That need not be the case. Many fields rely on non-scientists in the community to help gather data or solve problems. Here are a few examples.

The Audubon Society has used the results of the annual Christmas Bird Count for conservation efforts for over one hundred years.

Creek Watch is an iPhone app that lets you monitor the health of your watershed.

The mPING Project (Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground) also has an app and collects weather data to compare to radar predictions.

Citizen Sort uses games to allow you to help scientists identify and classify moths, sharks or rays.

Humans are better at puzzles and recognizing patterns than computers, so games like Foldit, Fraxinus, and Phylo are especially useful.

Scientific American has a page devoted to curating Citizen Science opportunities around the country and around the world, and you can even search by research type.

Alex Dainis of Bite Sci-zed has a great video about crowdsourced science.

This Week in Science: September 14-20 2013

Warty Prowfish are very strange looking.

In Defense of the Blobfish‘.

I learned ‘The Paleontologist Theme Song‘. Can I get my degree now?

Some bugs have musical genitals.

The natural history of asses.

A map of Europe since 1000 in 3 and a half minutes.

Times, they are a-changin’: tweets in peer-reviewed articles.

Some animals have names that would make a middle schooler giggle.

The rules of Bill Nye, The Science Guy.

Nanotyrannus isn’t real, really‘.

You can learn the life history of a whale from its ear wax.

Dinosaur feathers found in Canadian Amber‘.

You might know someone who is a chimera, or has multiple different genomes.

South Korea is trying to build an invisible skyscraper.

‘How many diseases can a New York City rat give you?’

Liechtenstein currently has the most skewed gender ratio in the world.

Four new species of legless lizards found in California, including one found at the end of one of the runways at LAX.

Scientists have mapped the genomes of endangered big cats.

Who wouldn’t like to put a dinosaur in a wind tunnel to study early flight?

String theory, explained to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody.

And a song about starfish.

Dinosaur hand position could have been more diverse than we thought.

This video from the back of an eagle is absolutely amazing.

Some areas are more vulnerable to climate change than others.

What caused the Cambrian Explosion?

Some entomologists sacrifice themselves for a good photo.

Leaves make good thermometers.

This Week in Science: September 7-13 2013

A British man released 1,000 crickets into his garden because he liked the sound.

Why did T. rex have such short arms?

Not even Darwin liked vultures and now they face extinction.

Climate Change Leaves Hares Wearing The Wrong Colors‘.

Sauropod neck bones are cool.

Newts are also cool.

Why islands make little animals big and big animals little.

How did Tiktaalik, one of the earliest amphibians, move?

How Many Continents Does Katy Perry’s “Roar” Video Take Place On Simultaneously?’

I love when paleontologists attempt to reconstruct paleopathologies, this time with tiger claw marks.

‘How Chemistry Can Explain the Difference Between Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey‘.

I never realized that squirrels cause so many power outages.

It was Stephen Jay Gould’s birthday this week.

Lions need to cuddle.

Don’t worry about the Triceratops v. Torosaurus debate. It’s ongoing.

Of Glacier National Park’s original 150 glaciers, only 25 remain.

Who knew that blowing out a candle could be so beautiful?

Mosasaurs were fast and fearsome.

An interactive map of what the world would look like if all the world’s ice melted.

Who invented clothes?

Some scientists are spies and some spies love frogs.

How to prevent birds from running in to your windows.

To paleontologists, the most important dinosaurs aren’t the most famous.

How much energy does it take to vaporize a human?

Why the Hawaiian molasses spill is worse than an oil spill.

Sorry Sir David Attenborough, but humans are still evolving.

Who knew that some insects have gears on their legs?

The mouth of a leatherback sea turtle is a scary, scary thing.

Some female squid paint themselves with glittering testes for defense.

The amazing fossil record of turtles.

Yet another reason why Jurassic Park would never actually work.

This Week in Science: August 31-September 6 2013

150 Million Years of Fish Evolution in One Handy Figure‘.

Why do binturongs smell like popcorn?

Why does the other lane/line always seem to be going faster?

Data from the LHC supports the Multiverse Hypothesis.

Making the transition from meat-eating dinosaur to plant-eating dinosaur is tough (and strange).

Tiny frog uses its mouth to hear.

Without sea ice, walruses now rest on Alaskan beaches.

How do you find amber with rare ants inside? By licking it, of course!

Fossilization makes organisms look more primitive.

Babies tune in to the sound of human voices and lemur calls.

You’ve probably never heard of the baubellum, and that’s okay because you don’t have one.

Elephant poaching has increased and you can thank the government budget sequester.

LEGO has introduced its first female scientist minifigure (and I want one).

You can draw an elephant using only mathematical formulas.

Ever wondered where third nipples come from?

Life In A Rapidly Shrinking Puddle‘.

Monkey alarm calls change according to predator location.

Sorry y’all, cow tipping is a myth.

Was Diana Nyad really at risk of sharks during her swim?

Dinosaurs held their tails aloft, so why do we find tail drag marks?

Here are footprints from some of the last on the dinosaurs.

Be careful, your car might melt in the light from a skyscraper.

New ‘ventriloquist’ bird discovered in the Philippines.

Something is making these tiny towers surrounded by fences, but scientists don’t know what.

Some frogs use thumb spikes to inject pheromones into females while mating.

We’ve discovered most mammals and birds, but we have a long way to go with insects!

I have a deep, abiding love for both geologic maps and national parks, so I think these are beautiful.

Saber-tooth cat fossils found in Venezuela.

Red honey‘ is the disgusting by-product of feeding bees candy.

As I’ve told countless children on my tours, just because it has -saurus in its name does not mean that it’s a dinosaur.

What sound does a fox make?

Word Wednesday: Mammal

One of the most common classes of animals are the mammals. It includes animals that many people know well: cats, dogs, bats, whales, etc. Most people have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a mammal.


Mammalia  comes from the Latin word ‘mamma‘ which means breast. Mammary glands, or milk producing glands, are one of the key features of mammals.

Besides mammary glands, all mammals also have hair, a single lower jaw bone (reptiles have 3 bones), 3 inner ear bones, cheek teeth with a divided root and an aortic arch (main artery in the heart) that bends to the left. Some traits are easier to observe than others and some of these traits aren’t as straightforward as they seem. For example, platypuses don’t have nipples like most mammals. Instead, they secrete milk through patches on their abdomen. Porcupines have modified hairs (quills) that they use to defend themselves from predators. And even whales and dolphins are some hair!

There are 3 types of living mammals: marsupials, monotremes, and placental mammals. Monotremes are the most primitive mammals and lay eggs. Today, the only monotremes–platypuses and echidnas–are found in Australia. Marsupials are slightly more derived than monotremes and give birth to underdeveloped young that mature inside a pouch. Modern marsupials live in Australia as well as South America and Eastern North America. Finally, placental mammals, including humans, are a relatively recent development. They give birth to live, relatively well-developed, young.

To learn more about mammals, check out the link below!

Linnaeus and the Breast

Trailside Museum of Natural History

Museums don’t have to be large to interesting and the Trailside Museum of Natural History at Fort Robinson State Park is a prime example. Located in Crawford, Nebraska in the northwestern corner of the state, the Trailside Museum is only one room, but it makes the most of it. As you walk through the doors, the first thing you see is a life-size skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth (the state fossil of Nebraska). The walls of the room are lined with fossils from the area arranged in chronological order, and include many fossils including ammonites, fossil trees, and big horn sheep.

The most impressive exhibit is without a doubt the ‘Clash of the Mammoths’. You can’t miss it; it dominates most of the back of the museum. Tens of thousands of years ago, two male mammoths fought and died in what is now western Nebraska. Both of these mammoths were around 40 years old and, because male mammoths continue growing throughout most of their adult lives, were very large. More importantly, each of these mammoths had one whole and one broken tusk. In modern elephants, males with a broken tusk tend to be vicious fighters and use the broken tusk to stab their opponent. For this reason, these fighting males were at very close quarters. Somehow they managed to entangle themselves and died that way, each dragging the other down. (Side note: if you look closely at the tusks while standing at the back of the exhibit, you’ll see a small rectangular hole in one of them. Unfortunately, it is not visible in this picture. This hole was made by Dr. Dan Fisher, a paleontologist who studies the life histories of mammoths and mastodons. You’ll see these little marks on tusks in museums across the country.)

Clash of the Mammoths

Clash of the Mammoths

Don’t let the size of this museum mislead you, it is definitely worth a visit. If you’re ever driving through southwestern South Dakota or northwestern Nebraska, I highly recommend visiting the Trailside Museum, the Mammoth Site, and other museums along the Fossil Freeway.